Change starts with adults: how our lack of self-reflection corrupts the development of next generations.
Our children reflect on their environment in their own ways.
There is hardly anything more important in society than raising children. The next generation is our future and the way we teach them to be is the way society is going to become. Children inherit our values and ideals. But they also inherit our idiosyncrasies and stupidities. The more shocking it is to witness examples of how thoughtless people act when it comes to raising their offspring.
First of all, small children reflect on what is happening. Of course their thinking deals with simple matters, such as “Why did mum say this and do that?” Children only start learning to think, so they begin with simple concepts, proceeding to more complex ones in later years.
Nonetheless, it is crucial to take responsibility as parents at all times, especially in the very early phases of a child’s development. That’s because our mind develops in layers. You can use a simile of an onion skin. There’s a core, around which many layers of skin wrap around. The core of a personality unfolds in the earliest years of babyhood. It’s a phase during which primal trust is established between a baby and its environment. That’s why it’s essential that a newly born child grows up in an environment full of love and care.
We all know that, right? It sounds so obvious. So why do we see thoughtless mothers yelling at children at playgrounds for trivial reasons? Why do we let children watch brutal movies. Why do we drink and smoke and then forbid those things to our children. Apparently, because it’s all so obvious, we forget it.
Why do we see thoughtless mothers yelling at children for trivial reasons?
let's recap our inconsistency!
Children shouldn’t be confronted with contradictory reactions. They learn from their environment and they reflect on what is happening in their own way, trying to make sense out of the world around them. Their mental faculties are developing. If a child does something and it gets praised, but then another time it gets punished or ignored for the same thing, the child will feel confused because the reasons don’t make sense in their minds. This causes inner frustration at such a young, tender age. In this way we unwittingly contribute to the corruption a child’s sense of integrity and purposefulness. If the adults’ reactions seem contradictory and random, we can’t expect our children to do it better and develop a better sense of judgement.
There is a myriad of such examples that underline our own inconsistencies. We forbid children to watch erotic content in magazines and films, but we don’t mind them watching ‘regular’ violence in movies. Love and sex will one day be part of their experience, but violence is something we want to avoid at all costs. So why do we shy away from ‘love’ content, but normalise violence in media? Logically, this makes no sense whatsoever. But because we’ve always been doing it this way, we don’t question it.
Another example is trying to teach kids not to smoke or drink, while at the same time yielding to those addictions as parents. Children might understand at some point that this behaviour is not desirable despite their parents doing it. But if you aren’t a role model for your kid in speech and deed, then you’re not in a position to make such well-intended, but nonetheless phoney demands either.
If we smoke, it's hard to argue against it to the younger generation.
Ignorance & Denials
Somehow, we know that all this is correct observations. But if we are pointed out the obvious errors in our behaviour, we do the worst thing possible: we ignore these realisations by just not doing anything and getting on with our lives as usual. Why is that so? Why is it so hard to convince people to adopt new behaviour?
That’s because if we are confronted with those obvious and powerful realisations, we are also confronted with our own weaknesses, which our ego is too proud or too lazy to handle. You might discourage your kid from smoking, but you realise your own weakness in quitting smoking. Your will is too weak to overcome the habit, so you rather ignore the realisation. Otherwise you would have to feel morally obliged to change your behaviour before you make demands from your child to change theirs.
In other cases we are just creatures of tradition and habits. Because we don’t reflect much ourselves, we don’t question old habits, so we let children watch violent films, because this behaviour has been socially normalised.
We need to take responsibility of what our children watch on TV.
Monkey Instinct: Observation & Imitation
So what is the solution to our own mental incapacity as parents? The first thing is to realise that adults are role models for children. If we don’t change our bad ways of doing things, we make it difficult for our children to adopt better behaviours. The change starts with grown-ups.
Furthermore, the most primitive way of learning is through observation and imitation. In this context we humans use our monkey instincts to repeat and parrot things. That’s how learning starts. That’s how small children learn. They observe and repeat what they absorb. That’s the level of how apes learn. It’s easy to see that setting good examples is crucial, especially at the youngest levels of a child’s development. If all of us as role models don’t live up to our task, then our children won’t adopt the desired behaviours easily. It’s like sawing off the branch you’re sitting on. You only sabotage the development of society you’re living in by indulging in bad habits yourself.
Let’s realise that we have to start with basics, before we can expect children to develop into self-determined and mature decision-makers. Their learning methods will be through observation and imitation to begin with, and what they cognise of their social environment will condition their perception and the resulting behaviour. That’s why we have to take care of what we let our children absorb through their senses. That means as little of passive TV-gazing as possible and as much of self-initiated indoor and outdoor activities as possible is the most desirable experiences for a child to learn about the world constructively.
Outdoor activities are good for children.